Linda Yaccarino, head of advertising at NBCUniversal, was preparing to interview Elon Musk, owner of Twitter, onstage at a conference last month when she received an email from a colleague in the advertising industry.
Rob Norman, a former executive at advertising giant WPP, wanted to know if Yaccarino had seen the op-ed he wrote after Musk bought Twitter last year. Norman’s column discussed the technology billionaire’s amplification of misinformation on Twitter and its chilling effect on advertisers.
Mrs. Yaccarino said yes and that she planned to raise such concerns, Norman said. But the main focus of her conversation with Mr. Musk would be on something else: his efforts to transform the social network into “Twitter 2.0”.
Now Mrs. Yaccarino is set to become the face of Twitter 2.0. Musk said on Friday that he chose Yaccarino, 60, to become the company’s chief executive. Hours earlier, NBCUniversal announced that Ms. Yaccarino was leaving, effective immediately.
“I am excited to welcome Linda Yaccarino as the new CEO of Twitter,” said Musk. tweeted. He said she would primarily handle business operations, while he would continue to work on product design and technology.
By choosing Yaccarino, Musk is signaling what his Twitter priority is: his advertising business over social media know-how. Mrs. Yaccarino has been one of Madison Avenue’s power brokers for decades. And Twitter, which makes most of its revenue from ads, has struggled to expand that business, especially after Musk scared off advertisers last year.
“Linda is a force,” said Joe Marchese, former head of ad sales at Fox Networks Group, who has known Yaccarino for at least a decade. “She has one of the biggest jobs in advertising, and the advertising business is tougher than ever.”
However, Yaccarino will have to do more than deal with Twitter’s publicity issues. The San Francisco-based company has been severely downsized since Musk cut 75 percent of its workforce and has struggled with knowledge gaps and technical glitches. Twitter is also saddled with $13 billion in debt it took on to allow Musk to buy the company.
More significantly, Mrs. Yaccarino would have to deal with a fickle and unpredictable boss in Mr. Musk. The 51-year-old billionaire has a history of firing executives who don’t meet their targets. He sometimes tweets news about his various companies, which also include electric carmaker Tesla, without warning. And as the owner of Twitter, Musk holds absolute power in the company.
Musk already changed Yaccarino’s carefully laid plans when he tweeted on Thursday that he had chosen a new head of Twitter, although he did not name her. Yaccarino, who was in back-to-back rehearsals for NBC’s annual presentation to top advertisers when the tweet was posted, did not inform many of his fellow executives that he planned to leave, four people with knowledge of the matter said. .
Lou Paskalis, a longtime advertising executive and friend of Yaccarino, likened his move to Twitter to “stepping into a lion’s mouth.”
“With her stature in the industry as probably one of the most loved and trusted people on the revenue side, I question why she would subject herself to that kind of potential reputational risk,” he said.
Mr. Musk and Mrs. Yaccarino may be betting that there are many advantages to Twitter 2.0. Musk has laid out ambitious plans for the company, telling employees it could be worth $250 billion one day and that the platform could be an “app for everything” with features like payments. (He recently said that Twitter is worth $20 billion, down from the $44 billion he paid for it.)
Mrs. Yaccarino has already been working on his Twitter priorities. One person who spoke with her in recent days said she is focused on fixing the company’s relationship with Madison Avenue and luring media companies back to the platform, potentially with partnership deals.
And she and Musk seem aligned on policy issues — such as a more permissive approach to Twitter discourse — that are central to her vision for the platform, said two people familiar with her views. She is conservative and critical of so-called awake speech, a term used by conservatives to describe elements of left-wing social progressivism that they see as censorship, they said.
Former President Donald J. Trump twice nominated Yaccarino to two-year terms on the Presidential Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition, where she joined aspiring Republican politicians like Mehmet Oz, the famed physician.
Yaccarino, who did not respond to requests for comment, grew up with working-class Italian parents on Long Island, New York, including a father who was a police officer. She attended Catholic school. After graduating from Pennsylvania State University in 1985 with a telecommunications degree, she spent nearly 20 years at Turner Entertainment, becoming Director of Advertising Sales, Marketing and Acquisitions Operations before leaving for NBCUniversal in 2011.
At Turner and NBCUniversal, Yaccarino — who is said to trade like a “velvet hammer” — made a name for himself helping traditional television hold its own in advertising in the age of Facebook and Google. Every year, she took the stage at Radio City Music Hall for the opening performances, the glitzy showcases used by television networks to woo Madison Avenue, to persuade marketers to pay a hefty premium over media fees. social to advertise on shows like “This Is Us” and “Saturday Night Live”.
But while Yaccarino has spent years defending tech companies’ TV ad dollars and fiercely criticizing Facebook and YouTube, she has also struck partnerships with apps like Snapchat and TikTok and digital outlets like BuzzFeed.
Outside of work, Ms. Yaccarino has been heavily involved in initiatives, including the World Economic Forum’s Future of Work Task Force, which she chairs. She was also chairman of the Ad Council, a non-profit group, and helped the group raise $60 million in three months at the start of the pandemic to help fight vaccine hesitancy by making private calls, sending notes and “ working on every lever she had,” said Lisa Sherman, executive director of the board.
It’s unclear when Yaccarino first met Musk, but they publicly interacted onstage at a press conference last month at the posh Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel in Florida. Mrs. Yaccarino has previously expressed admiration for Twitter, calling the platform “the single, No. 1 greatest” content distribution partner for NBCUniversal at an advertising industry event shortly after Mr. Musk take over the company. At the time, she added that she didn’t intend to “bet against him” and that she believed he could “learn publicity”.
“I think we can teach him,” she said.
This week, Yaccarino was on hand when Musk spoke at a publicity conference in Calif.’s Napa Valley organized by WPP, three people familiar with the event said.
Yaccarino would be a rare chief technology officer, as senior executives like Meta’s Sheryl Sandberg and YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki recently stepped down. Throughout her career, Ms. Yaccarino always said she was the only woman at the table and described incidents of bias, such as the time a male supervisor complained in a flattering performance review about her aggressiveness: “I just wish she would stop using her high heels as a weapon.” .
While Yaccarino is active on Twitter, her habits are quiet compared to Musk’s, although in recent weeks she has liked dozens of posts by and about him.
Still, the differences between Musk and Yaccarino were clear last month at the Miami press conference. A refined Mrs. Yaccarino came with prepared comments. A Mr. The unshaven Musk spent a few moments debating with his infant son, X Æ A-12, before joining her and offering sometimes hesitant answers to her questions.
Yaccarino has repeatedly returned to concerns that his industry peers have voiced since Musk took over Twitter, repeatedly emphasizing that the audience of advertising executives was crucial to the company’s financial success.
Musk said that “there are legitimate concerns from advertisers that I would like to hear.” He related a complaint he heard from David Zaslav, executive director of Warner Bros. Discovery, which was frustrated that it was unable to place ads for “White Lotus,” the hit HBO show, alongside discussions of “White Lotus” on Twitter.
The issue has since been fixed, Musk said.
Mrs. Yaccarino replied: “Then it is a new beginning”.
John Koblin contributed reporting from New York.